by Julie HaleJuly, 2002
July paperback releases offer good choices for reading groups
By Gwendolen Gross
The Australian rain forest provides a lush backdrop for this appealing debut novel. Annabel Mendelssohn, a young graduate student haunted by her brother's death, travels to Queensland to study fruit bats in their natural habitat. Via e-mail, she sends humorous reports about the expedition to her sister in the states. Overseeing her project is a handsome, quirky professor named John Goode, who suddenly disappears before their work is complete. Annabel, determined to solve the mystery of his whereabouts, sets out to find him and is soon joined by Goode's son, Leon. Together, they embark on a quest for the truth, connecting in unexpected ways on their journey. Gross spins a graceful tale of suspense, love and science, all wonderfully synthesized. A reading group guide is included in the book.
The Road Builder
By Nicholas Hershenow
When Kate's Uncle Pers, an African explorer, dies, she is drawn to the wild continent along with her new lover, Will. In the South African village of Ngemba, the two go to work as consultants for a palm oil factory, helping the locals smuggle the oil onto the black market. As new members of the village, they forge remarkable friendships, altering the locals' perceptions of whites in the process. They also make some intriguing discoveries about Uncle Pers' past. Narrated by Will, this sharply drawn portrait of life in Ngemba, full of memorable characters and rich scenery, is alive with the romance and mystery of the region. A haunting look at the effects of colonization, Hershenow's novel perceptively explores race, politics and the social dynamics of one of the world's most complex continents. A reading group guide is available online at www.penguinputnam.com.
By Lee Martin
The story of a prosperous African-American community in north Texas, Martin's accomplished first novel is based on historical events that occurred during the 1920s. Quakertown, an all-black neighborhood outside of Denton, is home to Little Washington Jones, a skilled gardener forced to act as a diplomat between whites and blacks when racial pressures threaten his town. The local banker, Andrew Bell, who is also Washington's boss, wants him to help ease the transition of Quakertown into a segregated community a division that leads to trouble. Meanwhile, Washington's daughter Camellia is in a doomed love affair with Kizer, the son of Andrew Bell. Tensions reach a new height when the Klan pays Quakertown a visit. Examining themes of race, loyalty and family, the novel full of marvelous period detail is an authentic picture of a bygone era. A reading group guide is available at www.penguinputnam.com.
The Dying Animal
By Philip Roth
Provocative, brilliant and a little bit bawdy, Roth's new novella fearlessly examines the May-December romance between an English professor and his former student. David Kepesh is the protagonist of two of Roth's previous novels. Now in his 70s, the cultural critic, university lecturer and full-blooded New Yorker muses on the obsessive love affair he had nearly a decade ago with a sexy 24-year-old graduate student named Consuela. When she contacts him again after an eight-year silence, Consuela brings tragic news that alters his life forever. What follows is a meditation on mortality and the undeniable sexual impulses that have driven Kepesh throughout his life. This brief book is a fine addition to Roth's impressive oeuvre. A reading group guide is available in print and online at www.vintagebooks.com/read.